Monica Ihrke is a printmaker currently based in Duluth, MN. She uses relief-printed linoleum to depict beloved and vulnerable natural and industrial spaces.
Brief Thoughts on Making Art as a Human
In the age of AI on the rise, I will admit that I am not the most informed. I haven’t taken the time to dive deep, deep into it. I follow a substack by math educator Dan Meyer (I met him as “Gator” at camp) who continues to argue that AI will not replace teachers any time soon (we are social beings, and AI has yet to socialize with us in a way that makes us feel seen). And Erika Swyler wrote a smashing review of AI in writing. (You should actually stop reading this and go read her article…she’s an actual writer! And she’s really good and one of my favorites!) I am comforted by these minds.
My real point is this…as a printmaker and artist, I am practicing a discipline that is antiquated and doesn’t need AI or computers. When you work with me or purchase anything from me, you’re getting my work, from my brain, from my hands. I carve images out of linoleum with knives. I roll ink out with a brayer onto the surface of the linoleum, and then my hands do the actual printing with either a glass baren or my woodzilla press (think of a tortilla press).
And why do I want you to know this? Why should you care? (Don’t feel like you need to care.) My artwork… from high-brow prints to hand-printed cards to tea towels are all hand made. There is an element of Human in my work that you won’t get from AI or something created by a computer or printed from a professional laser jet printer. You’ll be getting what I’ve learned over years of carving and printing. And you’ll be getting a part of me, too… There will be hints that a human being created the final product. How often do we actually interact with work literally touched and created by an artist’s hand?
In an age of AI, continue to look for the work made by artists’ hands who have left traces of their human-ness; it’s hidden in their work, left for you to find. My art will never by "perfect", but it will always be Human. Smile and feel the connection when you see the evidence of my human hand.
Bridging the Gap-10 miles of Duluth running fun!
I’m mostly ready for my race tomorrow. My bib has been picked up and more importantly, my nails have been painted (Sometimes I get fancy with “Rockstar Pink” nail polish.) Probably even more importantly than all of those things, I finished the prints I was asked to make for the finisher’s awards. And they are lovely! I love printing bridges, and I’ve never printed one that wasn’t made of steel. This bridge (that I’ll be crossing tomorrow morning on foot) is warm in color and will help us cross the mighty Lester River.
For the second year in a row now, Duluth Running Company has asked me to make prints for this race as prizes for the speedy ones. Don’t worry about those of us who won’t be on podiums, we’ll be getting a necklace by Erica Sara Reese. (Also, I'm totally fangirling over here, being an artist next to her!) This year’s necklace is an image of the elevation we’ll have run over ridges, bridges, and beside the big Lake. I personally can’t wait to put it on once I cross that finish line!
I wanted to give a shout out to Duluth Running Company for supporting small businesses and supporting women and artists! DRC, you rock my world and give me an excuse to paint my fingernails Rockstar Pink!!!
Printing Trees Last week, I took a journey with my boys to the Cities to drop off a print that will be at the Minnesota Zoo! The zoo replaced its monorail with a walking path and will have an art exhibit (with my print in it!!!) in its Hanifl Center . If you get a chance, go check it out! Enjoy the jaunt above the trees and the art celebrating trees! (Also, please tell me how it looks! I’m not sure when my family and I are going to get down there to see it.)
On a different note, in the hustle and bustle of summer, I’ve been busy printing Autumn. I’m enjoying Duluth’s cool mornings, the house wren’s song outside of my window when I wake up, and early morning runs that start after the sun has risen.
Summer is delightful, and Autumn is divine.
Crisp mornings, golden treetops, and the finale of color before Duluth becomes dark and still. This latest print embraces those warm colors before Duluth falls into cold slumber.
Mothering Artist I had many hopes for this last fall as I’d signed my youngest up for preschool at his brother’s school. I would start carving and printing during the day (opposed to nights after my kids are asleep), I’d reach out to local shops to get my art into their venues, I’d dedicate more head-space to my craft and small business. Unfortunately or fortunately, things didn’t turn out the way I had planned. Due to paperwork not being filled out properly, I’d not actually signed my youngest up for preschool, and in August I was left scrambling to create weekly out-of-the-house experiences for my youngest, piecemealing different hour-long classes together throughout Duluth.
Although my expectations for the year shifted once I realized my youngest would be by my side this school season, I still do have eyes that see what other “Mother-Artists” are doing, creating, and building. I’m in awe of what they accomplish, a tad jealous, and wonder how they continue to create new work and find balance for themselves.
My own work continues on, slowly, and although I wish I could be creating more, looking back at the last five months, I see some pretty cool accomplishments and opportunities I was a part of. Let me share some with you…
In October, I won 2nd place in a show sponsored by Speedball which earned me a new woodzilla press! (It's been an amazing tool I've been enjoying!)
In October, Duluth Running Company used my art as the over-all prizes (1st, 2nd, and 3rd) for their 2nd Bridge the Gap Women's Race.
In December, Duluth Running Company commissioned me to create 100 prints for their customer appreciation gift.
In December, I was commissioned to make one of the most complex images I’ve ever created, and it was spectacular.
In the last five months, I’ve submitted work for a journal and a proposal for another show. And I've continued to create new work.
While I feel like I’m moving slowly through my art practice, I’m very aware that my time as a mom is really valuable to my family and to myself. It’s all hard work, and I’m thankful for the support my partner and kids give me to steal away to carve and print.
And I’m incredibly thankful for You who continue to support my art and allow me the opportunity to keep creating!
I captured this image at mile 21 of a 23 mile day. I felt so strong and so thankful for my body and the ability to spend the day running. When I look back at this image, I see group trees who are stronger together. May we all find our community and people who support us through life and make us strong.
In the last few years, I’ve invested more energy into my art and its craft. I’ve been exploring Place in my work. On my two feet, I’ve run hundreds of miles through Duluth and have based dozens of prints off different moments in time and seasons. In my practice of making art I also continue to work out ways to integrate and engage my community in it. Past community projects have looked like me making art and giving it away or asking individuals to interact with it in some way. This latest project isn’t necessarily that, but it is an attempt to bring people together and raise awareness (and funds) for an organization who is supporting its community through movement and heart work.
So now through October proceeds from this lovely print will be going towardRising Hearts: an indigenous lead grassroots organization committed to the heart work in elevating indigenous voices and promoting and supporting intersectional collaborative efforts across all movements with the goal of racial, social, climate, and economic justice. Pick this print up HERE and help support an organization who is doing beautiful work in our world!
7.7.22 Where did June go? And... a new hat! June flew by and included art shows, birthdays, a half marathon, and a teaching opportunity at the Grand Marais Art Colony. I had my head down for most of June, trying to stay on task! Now that July has come, I'm leaning into summer and getting used to its flow.
One new thing I'm excited about though is this hatmade in collaboration with a friend to help bring my art to the public and support awesome organizations. Proceeds from this hat will support the Trevor Project.
While running, I captured this image at mile 21 of a 23 mile day. Looking back at this print now, I see a group of trees who are stronger together. May we all be the community and people who support us each other through life, making us stronger together.
Because there are bills being passed across the United States that negatively target our LGBTQIA+ community, I chose the Trevor Project to donate the proceeds from the sale of this hat.
This hat is a love letter to my community. When we support each other, we are STRONGER TOGETHER.
The Trevor Project is an American nonprofit organization founded in 1998 focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and questioning youth. Through a toll-free telephone number (1-866-488-7386), it operates The Trevor Lifeline, a confidential service that offers trained counselors.
Because of stigma and discrimination LGBTQ+ youth are more likely to struggle with mental health than their non-LGBTQ+ peers. (more info here) The bills that are being brought up in state legislatures around our country provide extra stress to the LGBTQ+ population. In supporting the Trevor Project, I hope to support a national organization that is providing mental health resources to LBGTQ+ youth right now.
5.15.22 As Seen on My Run: Linocuts from the North Country Over the last year, I have been building a collection of prints all based on runs I’ve taken through Duluth. Each print has a story and brings me back to a moment, often one that reminds me that I do hard things and that I am a small part of a huge beautiful world.
In celebration of these prints and in conjunction with my artist residency from last November, I will be having a solo art show at the Grand in New Ulm, MN. The show will run from June 10th to July 8th. There will be an opening on June 10th at 6pm, and I really hope to see you there!
Here’s a sneak peak of what you’ll find at the show.
4.12.22 "As Seen on My Run" is at Duluth Running Co. My love for running and art goes deep into my bones and has been a small part of me for as long as I can remember. This last year I’ve been printing moments from different runs I’ve taken throughout the Duluth area, and this last Sunday, I hung these running themed linocuts in Duluth Running Co. If you’re in the area, check out this store and my work there! Thank you, Duluth Running Co. for this fun opportunity to combine two of my passions!
On a side note, I took this picture of myself standing on one leg in an awkward position to get my print and the store sign in the frame. That, my friends, is my strength training in action. Thank you, planks and glute bridges!
3.2.22 Projects are coming together! Since the last post, I have been busy and new projects have been coming together...
"As Seen on My Run" Art Shows- I have been furiously working on finishing this series. Here's a sneak peak of some birch. They were initially an autumn image, but my eyes are only seeing spring now. This series will be shown in two separate places! Starting in April, you can find a modified show at Duluth Running Company. I am so incredibly excited about this partnership! All you friends visiting Duluth (especially for Grandma's Marathon), check my prints out there. A full showing of this series will also be at New Ulm, MN, at the Grand. Mark your calendars for June 10th if you'd like to join me at the opening!
"As Seen on My Run" Cards- With a little nudge from a friend, I put together a card set of 6 images from the show. You can purchase them separately or as a pack. Find them here.
Art on Hats for a Cause- Months ago a friend approached me about putting my art on a trucker hat. While a little hesitant enough people would want this hat, she kept encouraging the project forward with confidence, and this project is finally LIVE, and in less than 24 hours is over halfway sold! The proceeds from these hats are going to the Dana Farber Cancer Institute where my friend went through her treatment. We're hoping this is the start of something special with more hats being made that benefit more causes! Find the hats here.
12.8.21 The Artist Residency at the Cellar Press at the Grand in New Ulm, MN I went into this artist residency with the idea to expand and build a body of work I’ve been calling “As Seen On My Run”. The work itself was captured with a hand held camera on my training runs and races throughout St. Louis County and the Superior Hiking Trail. I worked off of these images, carving and printing for fourteen days straight and finished the residency with 9 new original pieces (all except one being multi-layered) and roughly 300 actual prints. Two prints went through the press eight times, meaning if there were 25 prints in each set, I sent paper through the press 400 times in these prints alone. After each print session where I’d print three to four different images, I’d spend the evening carving. Some linoleum blocks took little time to carve, but many asked a lot from my hands (to the point I had blisters).
The actual experience reminded me of running a marathon. In both experiences, pacing myself is a must. Running on fumes does not bode well with me. In both experiences, I also had the full spectrum of emotions. There were times I was blissfully excited to be creating (at the beginning and at some point each day), really frustrated, missed my people, questioned why I was doing this to myself and family. There were also times (toward the end) when I was incredibly thankful for my family and in-laws (who were with my kids while my partner worked), thankful for my body that allows me to run and create, proud of the work I made, and proud of my family and all of their endeavors.
Now less than a week off of the experience, I’m still a little bit on a high, but I’m back into the swing of things, playing games with my 3 yo during the day, laundry, snacks, dinner, and back to creating/business at night. The Grand offered me time and a press, and by gosh I used both and am walking away so proud.
Other moments that were notable for me… -I got to see people from my past, and it was lovely sharing meals and even printing with some. (I lived near New Ulm in grad school over ten years ago.) -I got to run some miles with another mother runner -I got to send out ~50 postcards of a reflection from a recent run -I got to hear live music which I haven’t been doing much of for over 7 years (this totally coincides with the birth of my first.) -I got to hear a band that has been a soundtrack to my life in MN. I’ve seen them at more than one of my birthdays, have sipped wine to their melodious tunes at a vineyard, and even danced at my wedding to them. I hope I get to hear this band forever. (Also, it’s a very convenient band for me to see since my brother-in-law is in it.)
Things I listened to: T. Swift-Red (on repeat) Mandolin Orange On Being with Krista Tippet We can do hard things with Glennon Doyle Big Magic written by Elizabeth Gilbert Love Warrior written by Glennon Doyle
Here is the work I made. Enjoy! All of the work is up in my etsy shop if you're interested in purchasing it.
11.5.21 A Postcard Reflection During my artist residency at the end of the month, I’ll be creating and printing an original postcard with a hand-written reflection on the back from one of my runs. If you’d like to receive this postcard, leave your address in this form.
10.20.21 An Artist Residency!
With my ultramarathon complete, I’m looking forward to my next adventure...an artist residency! Next month, I’ve been invited to participate in an artist residency (specifically for printmakers!!) at The Grand in New Ulm, MN! I’ll use this time to focus on my “As Seen on My Run” project during waking hours (opposed to nights after the boys are asleep). I’m excited and feel really honored to be asked to participate.
10.7.21 When carving feels like an endurance event...
Carving this print has felt like a marathon. Literally, I’ve spent more time carving this block than I have spent running a single marathon. I haven’t kept track of the specific time, but it’s possible I’ve spent more time carving this block than running an ultra in the snow.
When I begin each carving session, I look at the block and am overwhelmed by how much there is to do and how little progress I will make in one session. But many small sessions make big progress. I know this, but my mind forgets.
In carving, running, and life, we must take one step at a time. Grasping the energy required to complete these tasks makes my mind not even want to start the hard work. And so, our feet must take the steps, our hands must do the work, and hopefully our hearts will begin to sing as we make progress, small movements forward.
On a side note, I’m running a 50k in a week. I’m hoping I’ll have finished carving this block before then. The actual image was captured on my final “long run” at mile 21. I’m looking forward to sharing more prints as they come and introduce my latest project that combines those moments I saw on my run.
9.2.21 a new project : grace and grit About a month ago, a running friend contacted me about creating a piece for her. She had just finished her last round of radiation for breast cancer and wanted a token to remember the journey, but I’m guessing more than remembering the journey, a remembrance of the grace and gritthat filled her body as she not only lived through a pandemic while continuing to parent two young kids, but took on breast cancer in the midst of it. I’m so proud of her as she navigated her treatment plan to completion with her smile intact and is now in a place where she’s doing the hard work of healing.
My running friend asked me to make something at the height of wildflower season in the North Country. When I thought of grace and grit in the world around me, my mind kept coming back to wildflowers in the prairie. These flowers appear every summer after experiencing brutally cold winters with feet of snow on top of them. Every year in spring using the water from snow and the light of a sun that didn’t warm them for 6 months, they decide to grow again. Regardless of how harsh the winter was, prairie wildflowers gracefully bloom in the summer, filling fields, swaying in the breeze, and luring pollinators. These creatures endure harsh winters and harsh times, and yet bloom still.
When I thought of my friend’s journey through breast cancer, I thought of wild flowers in all of their grace and grit.
I’m well into this print, there are only a few more layers left. I feel pretty lucky to be creating this print. Thank you, C.A.B., and sending out Love and Light as you continue to heal!
P.S. the print is complete and you can find it HERE.
7.31.21 the freshwater review My work was published in the College of St. Scholastic's freshwater review! (My work was also featured on the cover!) It's lovely, and I can't wait to dive into the rest of the journal!
6.24.21 A quick shout out from my grad program! I made the announcements in Minnesota State University, Mankato's Experiential Education website. Check it out here.
6.7.21 Big Fun News! On Saturday, June 5th (my mom's birthday), I was featured in my local newspaper! Thank you Melinda Lavine and Steve Kuchera for such a sweet, thoughtful piece about my artwork! Check it out here. (Photo credit Steve Kuchera / email@example.com)
5.21.21 Building Bridges and Community Project Updates: A final in-person postcard packets pick-up (how's that for alliteration) has been delivered to Earth's Elements Hillcrest in Hillcrest, CA! You can still find postcards at these physical sites, or fill out a form online and I can send one out to you!
5.1.21 Building Bridges and Community Project Updates: This lovely project is coming to a close! There are only ~27 postcards left! You can still find postcards at these physical sites, or fill out a form online and I can send one out to you!